Comparison – Canon 5D3 vs Nikon D800

Now that the long-awaited 5D3 has been announced, let’s see how it stacks up to the Nikon D800. This page will be updated as images become more available and we get the cameras in our hands.

First, a run-down of the basic features of each camera:

Canon 5D3

  • 22MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25600 standard, 50-102,800 expanded
  • 6 fps continuous shooting
  • Shutter rated to 150,000 frames
  • 1080p 30fps video
  • 61 point AF system
  • 63 zone iFCL metering system
  • 100% viewfinder coverage
  • 1040k dot 3:2 LCD
  • CF & SD card slots

Nikon D800

  • 36.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 15.3MP DX-mode & 25MP 1.2x crop mode
  • 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type sensors
  • ISO 100-6400 extendable to ISO 25,600 equiv
  • 1080p video at 30, 25 or 24 frames per second, up to 24Mbps (with uncompressed HDMI output)
  • 3.2″, 921,000 dot LCD with anti-fog layer
  • Maximum 4fps continuous shooting in FX mode, 6fps in DX mode
  • Advanced Scene Recognition System with 91,000 pixel metering sensor
  • ‘Expeed 3′ Image Processing
  • CF & SD card slots


Canon has redesigned the 5D3 body along the lines of the 7D, and that’s a good thing, as the 7D was and is a widely beloved camera. It gains a bit of heft, and weighing in at 950g (with battery) is a bit closer to the Nikon, which was reduced in heft. As far as external controls go, you probably know the difference between Canon and Nikon, so it’s a personal preference. It’s interesting to note that Canon has adopted the press & spin method of enlarging photos as per Nikon. The mode dial now has a locking button, which I don’t think was necessary, as mine never got knocked. To see how the bodies differ in appearance, see this comparison by dpreview.


This is where camps will likely diverge. A lot of people seem to be happy with the 36mp of the new Nikon D800, especially those who do landscape and studio photography. The D800E will be even better for them, with the low-pass filter removed. The Canon took the path of “less is better” – with a simple 1 megapixel increase from the 5D2. A lot of photographers were asking to keep the pixels down, so I think this was a wise move on Canon’s behalf.

Upon looking at the official image samples from Canon and Nikon, it seems that the D800 delivers superior sharpness (with the D800E looking stellar). For those who can’t help but pixel-peep 100% at high ISOs, here are some good examples of the Nikon and here is one of the Canon. It seems at least for jpegs, the Canon wins on this front, although the D800 is a clear improvement upon the D700, which itself was already good.


Canon set the standard with the 5D2 several years ago, although it left something to be desired with no manual audio options, no 720p 60fps mode, etc. And now they have corrected those shortcomings with the 5D3. Both the Canon and Nikon have an external knob to switch between live view and video mode. One advantage Nikon has over the Canon is uncompressed HDMI output. For more on that, see filmaker Vincent Laforet’s comments.


One big advantage of the Canon, as noted by Ken Rockwell in his preview, is the 3 mode dials which give you instant access to custom settings. I use these all the time on my XXDs, and they are indeed most useful. Canon also has a new HDR mode which according to dpreview, does a fine job, and also saves the original files. The Nikon can shoot in DX and 1.2X mode, useful for those looking to use DX lenses or shoot sports. A continued weakness of Canon full frame cameras is that they cannot shoot with APS-C lenses, including this one. The 5D3 finally has a 100% coverage viewfinder, up from 98% on the 5D2. Nikon has a built-in flash where the Canon does not, and it also has the ability to remotely fire flashes with TTL control.


It’s exciting times for photographers with the announcement of these two new cameras. Where in the past Nikon was playing the low noise/low megapixel card, now it seems Canon is adopting that strategy. The Nikon will probably be a good noise performer, but will it be as good as the Canon 5D3? I doubt it. But time will tell as production models hit the market. Another glaring difference is in price. Whereas the D800 is actually $300 cheaper than the preceding D700 when it was announced, the Canon is $800 more expensive than the 5D2 when it was announced. Either way, stay tuned until we get our hands on these two beauties…

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